The Problem of Western Adoption Discourse

by Hilbrand Westra, adopted from South Korea to the Netherlands; founder of Adoptee Foster Coaching (AFC); awarded the Order of Orange-Nassau for his contributions to the Netherlands adoptee community. The original text in Dutch here.

#Adoption is not a universal right, but it is a Western right.

If adoption is really and essentially good, then we must allow adoptions in and from all countries. The principles for adopting children (social, economic, medical, ideological, psychological, (post) Christian, scientific and political motives, etc.,) must then be applicable and legally valid for everyone. Adoption must then become part of a universal right anywhere, and for anyone in the world.

Then all prospective adoptive parents can receive financial and fiscal support from all governments in their countries. As for years the costs of adoption were tax deductible in the Netherlands and in the USA where so-called adoption loans exist. Some in the Netherlands took out a private loan from banks or were financially sponsored by family members to be able to adopt children from mothers who were financially struggling.

Back to the international advice. We can best categorise adoptions as part of foreign relations. We can then finally see adoption as an exclusive form of development cooperation and as an exclusive form of migration, without the children’s parents, of course. Then it can finally be transferred to ministries of foreign affairs, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Maybe a fun fact, adoption in South Korea used to be managed by the Ministry of Commerce. Yes, yes they already knew what it was about then.

OPEN BORDERS

If there is agreement that it is a universal right, then the Netherlands must also open its doors wide to adoptions to other countries from and for less fortunate children in the Netherlands, for example children who cannot find foster care, live below the poverty line, children of single parents, children who do not have health insurance, children of refugees, children who have been expelled from parental authority or children of parents who are in conflict, children who receive a better education elsewhere or opportunities that they would otherwise not get in the Netherlands.

This does mean that we have to accept adoption agencies from the US, Canada, Australia and other European countries, as well as from China, Saudi Arabia, India and Russia and all other countries where the economy is picking up. They should all be entitled to the supply of children in the Netherlands.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS

Why not a transatlantic adoption trade deal on this topic. It has already been categorized as a Child Industrial Complex in social science (Cheney et al). Actually, we are not playing the game completely fair now. We do have access to, especially non-Western countries, but not the other way around.

If we really believe that the current pro-adoption arguments are universally legitimate, then we should also be able to apply them to a reciprocal exchange of children with other countries. What we call the in-and-out situation in the adoption jargon as with the USA.

The consequence is that the Hague Adoption Convention must be dropped, not that the Netherlands cares about it at all, even though the permanent office is in the Netherlands, it already ignores the subsidiarity principle (take care of your own children first before you may adopt in and out) . A so-called equal level playing field must then be created. Free play and free choice of children for everyone.

CHINESE PROSPECTIVE PARENTS IN THE NETHERLANDS

I can already picture it, hordes of childless Chinese couples and singles who go to disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague to select children. Or the smartest go into the provinces, looking for young unmarried mothers without family support. These are then entered in a database so that other prospective adoptive parents in China can also choose from the online catalog on age, gender, colour, health, background, DNA value and cost-benefit (starting with €25,000) analysis. Something that is now permitted in non-Western countries.

SILVER AND GOLD MEMBERSHIPS

And there will be a preferred supplier list for the countries that pay the most and have the most political interests. They may choose first! Or what about Islamic countries that use oil money to buy up children to win souls in the bible belt regions. At least the same number of children who have adopted in these regions should then be available on the Netherlands side for Muslim regions. There are several thousand. It seems like a great idea for a solid negotiating basis for peace and trade with Islamic superpowers. The evidence for such trade-offs is already there.

POLITICS AND BUSINESS AS USUAL

What about the adoption of children for political / business services like the former Federal Chancellor Schröder (then 60) who more or less received a child from Putin in 2004. As a token of thanks, a business delegation came to get to know Russia. This entire adoption affair was downplayed and concealed by the German government, but in the meantime German and Russian secret services were ordered to keep the ‘transmission of no 4’ in the right direction.

WHAT DEFENCE IS NOT GOOD FOR

And what about Belgian MPs who used Belgian military aircraft to hold private adoptions behind the scenes or to cooperate in large-scale ‘evacuations’ of so-called defenceless children from Congo. How do we know this again? Oh, the Babylift operations in Vietnam by USA’s airforce.

In other words, there is good business to be done with and for children, certainly internationally.

A condition is that there cannot be a covert first choice for well-to-do Netherland’s middle class to adopt domestically. After all, the Dutch children’s group will then suddenly become part of the international children’s market (M. Riben).

EQUAL WISHES EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES

What do you think of the above proposal?

Netherland’s prospective adoptive parents are given free rein and are allowed to choose what they want (they are just like animals that children, as adoptive mother Karen Gregory describes in her words in the newspaper Trouw) but other non-Western aspiring adoptive parents can also pick and deliver in the same way as is done in the Netherlands. Sounds like a great plan considering that it will offer equal opportunities for everyone.

Oh yeah. Perhaps an opportunity for companies such as Thuisbezorgd and Deliveroo to tap into a new and international market? The profit margin is enormous. In the peak times, an average of $ 2.5 billion a year was spent in international adoption.

If this open market is there, it is only a matter of time that an American movie star or celebrity files a lawsuit against the Netherlands for not getting what she ordered …

And there is a good chance that foreign multi-millionaires will come up with certain subsidies on projects so that they can buy and buy off the preferred supply for years. All seems like a good plan now that the Dutch economy can use a boost in this COVID time.

FALLING MARKET VALUE

Unfortunately, the above plan does not actually have any impact in the long run. It is being taken over by a new market. Namely that of commercial surrogacy and designer babies that you can put together yourself with the DNA material as you wish. Who then wants a second-hand child?

NEW TREATIES WITH THE SAME LOOPHOLES

But as it now seems, that market has discovered the loopholes of international adoption and wants a similar treaty as the Hague Adoption Convention. We already discussed this internationally in 2016. The smart ones among the lawyers, many white young women who say they care about other women in the world (or what matters to them, the control of surrogate mothers for a healthy gestation period) saw their chance. Solidarity with other women suddenly ceases when it comes to children. Then the ‘animal instincts’ are released, to use Gregory’s words again.

After all, it seems to be all ethically regulated on paper, but everything underhanded is possible because as soon as there is a treaty, nobody can and does not need to check each other anymore, and everything is possible. Long live international treaty laws.

SCHIZOPHRENE CONSUMERS

In the meantime, more than 9,000 signatures have been collected to lift the temporary stop on international adoption in the Netherlands. However, this petition group does not want to delve into the backgrounds of the subject that they are committed to as consumers. Perhaps Benjamin Barber is right in his book, The Infantile Consumer.

He introduces what he calls the ‘infantilist ethos’: the capitalist ideology that reduces responsible citizens to docile consumers and replaces the public good with private property. Barber shows how adult consumers infantilise in a global economy that generates massive overproduction of goods and focuses primarily on the child as a consumer. He keenly analyses the consequences of this development for our children, our freedom, citizenship and democracy.con

HEDONISM 2021

A long time ago, when I read Aldous Huxley’s book, ‘A Brave New World’, I had the creeps that this could be true. And lo and behold, it is already here. If this is correct, then Hannah Arendt’s theorem is also true. Even worse, history has already shown it. The human monster turns out to have an ordinary face of a ‘normal man or woman’ that is not served by a No. It seeks immediate satisfaction of individual needs and enjoyment. Possibly at the expense of others. This is called hedonism.

END OF FEMINISM 3.0

Feminism also appears to stop at the borders of the western world, and women of colour appear to remain anxiously silent on this subject. After all, they want everything that the dominant white women also have: freedom, beauty, power, prestige and also children of another, if it is convenient. Even if it costs an existential loss for those directly involved; parents and children.

THE HOLLYWOOD SAGA

In the meantime, Hollywood and Walt Disney take the subject of orphan and adoption as a present and no longer questions the suffering of Dombo, Bambi, Superman and many other examples. After all, people mainly remember the happy ending of Annie (The Musical), for example, but not what preceded it. After all, the consumer wants the end product but not the responsibility of the process in advance.

ADOPTION PORN

Since then, something like #adoptionporn seems to exist. Hordes of Dutch people sit in front of the TV every week with tissues ready to do themselves well with the program ‘as Spoorloos ed. indirectly permits this way. The price? National exposure of suffering.

FINALLY

But who actually pays for that suffering? Usually not the consumers. They are just end users.

I end with a quote from Dr. Jordan Peterson.

“Your rights, become my responsibility.”

In other words, your right becomes my responsibility. What you claim as a right must then be provided and protected by others. The question is and remains, at what price?

I Support #NotAThing

#NotAThing founders: Allison Park, Kara Bos, Brenna Kyeong McHugh, Cameron Lee, Kevin Omans, Patrick Armstrong, and Richard Peterson. Media artists Valerie Reilly (Graphic Designer) and Sarah Monroe (Videographer), and petition Korean translator Jullie Kwon.

I am not a Korean intercountry or domestic adoptee but I am an intercountry adoptee and this is not just a Korean adoption issue – it is a global issue for all who are impacted by adoption. I stand with the Korean adoptees who are demanding President Moon apologise and meet with them to discuss how to better protect vulnerable children.

I am against the murder and abuse of any child who gets placed into an adoptive family.

I am also against any rhetoric that minimises what has happened and attempts to push the responsibility onto the child – as if they were the cause, not good enough, and needed to be “swapped out” to better suit the needs of the adoptive family.

It is time the governments of the world, who participate in, promote and look to the current plenary adoption system be upfront and realistic about the downsides this system creates.

My first argument is that the current plenary system of adoption does not respect the child’s rights and too easily becomes a commodity in a market for adoptive families to pick and chose the child of their choice. President Moon’s poorly chosen words simply reflect this reality. His words tell us what we already know: children are a commodity in today’s economy – matched theoretically to suit the needs of prospective parents, and not the other way around! If there were any semblance of equality in this system, we children would be able to more easily rid ourselves of adoptive families when we deem them equally unsuitable! But the reality is, we are children when adoption happens and like little Jeong-In, have no power or say in what happens to us. We are adopted into the family for life, our rights to our birth origins irrevocably denied, our adoption as Pascal Huynh writes, “is like an arranged child marriage”. The majority of the world somehow understands how unethical an arranged child marriage is, yet we still talk about plenary adoption as if it’s a child’s saviour.

Thanks to the recent publicity of Netra Sommer’s case, the public around the world have recently become aware of how hard it is for us adoptees to revoke our adoptions. It took Netra over 10 years to be able to undo her adoption! As for any equal rights in the current system, the mothers and fathers of loss get even less than us adoptees. They are discouraged from changing their minds if they no longer wish to relinquish their child, yet President Moon is publicly encouraging a process that allows adoptive / prospective parents to change theirs. This is the one sided nature of the adoption system!

Jeong-In’s death highlights some other core issues I have with the plenary adoption system:

  • The lack of long term followup, research or statistics on adoptees after the adoption and post placement period.
  • The selection and assessment of prospective parents by the adoption agency and their lack of accountability in their role.
  • The blind belief within the child welfare system, that an adoptive parent would never harm a child. But with all the indicators shown in this video of the recount by child care workers who tried multiple times to flag that things weren’t right for this child, no action was taken to suspect the adoptive parents of harming this child. This reflects the one sided view of first families who are demonised and seen as the only perpetrators of violence or abuse against their children. In contrast, adoptive parents are seen as saviours/rescuers but yet many adoptees will give evidence of the abuse that happens too often within adoptive families.
  • The lack of rights for any first family/kin to be notified or able to access the child’s body after death.

One has to wonder how such leniency and almost apparent empathy for the adoptive parents as expressed in President Moon’s words could not be equally applied to first families in Korea. In the large majority of cases, Korean women have to relinquish their children due to single motherhood status and the lack of supports – not because of any dark, violent, drug filled history.

I get angry each and every time a vulnerable child like little Jeong In-Yi gets mistreated and hurt by the very system that is meant to protect and support them. Let’s use this anger to demand change that is long overdue but also, let’s not forget Jeong-In herself for although she only remained on this planet for a short 16 months, she has impacted many of us!

The mothers of KUMFA have stood up and rallied to demand the agency involved, Holt Korea, be held accountable for their role in this death. The Korean adoptees around the world have created this campaign #notathing to demand the President of Korea meet with them to hear their voices. We need government to invite us to the table to discuss options other than plenary adoption.

I and other members of ICAV have shared about alternatives to plenary adoption but I question if Jeong-In would still be alive today if she had not been placed into the adoption system. The irony is no doubt she would have been much safer with her single unwed mother!

The shame is on Korea for not doing more as a first world nation to support mothers and children to remain together! The same is applied to any country, especially first world nations who have the resources yet continue to have their children adopted out via the plenary adoption system. In the USA there has been a very similar child murdered within adoptive family that mirrors Korea.

This is not a system I aspire to for vulnerable children of the future!

In Memory of Jeong-In, died 16 months old, Oct 2020

I want to end by honouring Jeong-In for the massive impact and legacy she has left behind. I hope she has not died in vain. I hope the extreme pain she must have endured was not for nought! I hope that each time an adoptee dies at the hands of their adoptive family, the world community will stand up and demand the we adoptees are #NotAThing and that more needs to be done to make our system safer and more aligned to the needs and rights of us – for whom it is all meant to be about! We are that vulnerable child grown up, who could not speak for themselves and needs our protection and our action!

Please consider signing the petition #NotAThing and find ways in which you can take action, to demand governments and authorities do more to make changes away from the current plenary adoption system to something far more respectful of adoptee and first family rights and needs.

#imsorryjeongin
#notathing

Other adoptee voices who share about #notathing

Kara Bos
Moses Farrow
Mila Komonos

Media Coverage

Adoptees say “we are not a thing”

We are more than Numbers!

by Brenna Kyeong McHugh adopted from Sth Korea to the USA

Below is the documented data and information from The Ministry of Health and Welfare in Korea.

It is inaccurate and incomplete as it states that only 156,242 infants, children and adolescents were adopted from 1953 to 2004. The actual total number of adoptees from Korea since the 1950s is estimated to be 220,000 or more.

There are an estimated 15,000 Korean adoptees in Minnesota alone, including myself. The numbers are appalling. 8,680 children were adopted in 1986, myself included. Read that number again: EIGHT THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY. This is just the number that is documented; it is most likely much higher. 8,680 children lost their families, names, identities, language, and culture. 8,680 families were forever altered and destroyed. 8,680 of us endured irreversible trauma that we continue to work and process through as adults, granted, those of us who did not lose our lives to suicide, abuse, addiction, and other circumstances.

According to the data in the second chart, the leading reason that was documented for adoptions was listed as Abandonment. The second documented reason was Unwed Mothers. They only listed the number of male children who were adopted but not the number of female children, which we can all assume is much, much greater.

These numbers for every year since the beginning of international adoption from Korea are astronomical. The data itself indicates the systemic issues that feed the adoption industry, making it the beast it is today, including racism, White supremacy, saviorism, capitalism, ableism, poverty, socioeconomic issues, politics, etc.

Throughout my journey as an adopted person, I have been told different accounts about the first part of my life. I was first told that my name Lee Okkyeong (pronounced Yi Oak Young), was given to me by my family. Later, I was told that it was given to me when I was being processed at Eastern Social Welfare Society, the adoption agency. I was also told my date of birth was an estimate. I was initially told my mother was single and unwed and that my father was basically a dead beat who left my mother before knowing she was pregnant with me and that he couldn’t hold down a job. When I was 24 years old, I was told by the adoption agency that my mother and father had actually been married.

The beginning of my life is full of contradictions. I still don’t know my truths and I’m going to continue to assume that I never will. Being adopted and trying to piece my past together has proven to me time and time again that people in power and the system are not to be at all trusted, and are not designed or created for the us – the marginalized, the poor, and those who seek change and truth.

The adoption industry will lie, fabricate, use, exploit and destroy families in order to make profit. The adoption industry does not care about children; it only cares about money and having control and power. I realise just how unaware I was of the inequities and inequalities in adoption when I was little and how they affected me even though I couldn’t fully understand or name them.

Korean adoptees are more than these numbers. We are more than this data, and these documented statistics. We are human beings. We have histories and families. We are more than our losses, pain, and trauma. We deserve our truths. The more we adoptees share our narratives and return to Korea to search and fight for our truths and families, the more government and adoption agencies will not have any choice but to acknowledge us and what they did to us – their children.

Forget Me Not: ICAV Online Event Feedback

by Pamela Kim adopted from Sth Korea to the USA.

These are my thoughts about ICAV’s online event for adoptees with filmmaker and guest speaker, Sun Hee Engelstoft (adopted from Korea to Denmark). I’ve been thinking about it ever since and putting it off because it’s heavy. I don’t really have the emotional capacity to write everything I want to say smoothly so I’m just going to put some of the highlights out there in no particular order.

Pamela Kim in Korea before adoption with foster mother. Pamela’s Korean name on the sign – Kim Ah Young.

Sun Hee’s groundbreaking film Forget Me Not, tells the story of 3 birthmothers in Korea who were coerced into giving up their babies. During Sun Hee’s talk I learned that Sun Hee lived in the shelter with the mothers for two years. She was sort of like a confidante for them, unable to be placed within the usual hierarchy in Korea because she’s an adoptee. In spite of their closeness, most of the mothers have chosen not to keep in touch with Sun Hee because she represents the most painful part of their lives. One of the mothers ended up in a mental institution and was forbidden to keep in touch with Sun Hee and also her child, despite the promises that she would be able to. The other mothers married and eventually had more kids.

Sun Hee had planned to complete the film in 2 years but it ended up taking 8-9 years. She might have given up but she felt an obligation to tell the mothers’ stories. Sun Hee said that if she had her own children, she doesn’t think she could have made the film; the implication was that it would have been too painful.

I hung onto every word of Sun Hee’s talk filled with so much valuable knowledge and poignant perspective. Here are a few sentences from Sun Hee that really struck me and will stay with me forever.

“Mothers want to keep their children. Period.” Only when mothers were threatened with the loss of family and any future were they unsure about this. Sun Hee said, “I believe I saw how the mothers would close down and how babies would close down, and that was really, really painful to watch.” I could see the pain on Sun Hee’s face as she recalled these memories. I think about myself as a child and how incredibly difficult it was to open up again.

“Relinquishment is an every-day decision.” This blew me away. Sun Hee talked about how she had always thought of relinquishment as something that happens once, on a specific day, and then it’s over. But she found that this was not the case. Every day the mothers were faced with the question of whether to relinquish: when they were pregnant they questioned; after giving birth they questioned more intensely; and even after actually giving the children up they wondered if they’d made the right decision. Most of the mothers could have visited or made contact with their children and they chose not to. When I heard this, I thought about what this means for us adoptees being on the other side. To me it means that abandonment is an every-day experience. We are given up and then every day our mothers do not come to find us, we are abandoned again. It’s not something that happens once.

I don’t know how to end this other than to say thank you from the bottom of my heart, Sun Hee. You have become a bridge between our mothers’ world and our adoptee world. Thank you for honouring their trauma, our trauma, your trauma. Thank you for helping to tell us the truth. We were wanted!